When I was a pediatric resident we were taught that if a father comes with a mother, or comes alone with the child, for a well child visit or a sick visit we should be suspicious that things were not going well for the family. Either the dad did not trust that Mom was a good mother, or was afraid she would say something negative about him. In any event, we were taught to try to see what was wrong.
I was flabbergasted! Mary and I had three kids and whenever possible we went together when we visited their pediatrician, Dr. Ruppa. We both loved him and I always felt I could learn from him. I hoped he didn’t think there was something wrong with our relationship.
In my practice I quickly learned that concept was at best fiction or at least very discriminatory against dads. I liked dads. I felt very comfortable talking with them, thought they had a special place in their kid’s lives, encouraged them to come see me, and helped them be involved in child care.
An article in July Pediatrics calls attention to the importance of dads in their children’s lives. Thank goodness, dads are finally given some recognition. This long article – 15 pages, 150 references – stressed that parenting is a team activity. Each parent brings different talents to the team.
Unfortunately, many pediatricians are “mother focused” and give the impression that the dad should do everything exactly like the mother does. But, dads and moms are not mirror images, they function differently and have different effects on the child.
Readers familiar with my book, Tools for Effective Parenting, will remember this quote from parenting psychologist Dr. Marsha Kline, “So instead of feigning disgust with those who acknowledge male and female stereotypes, we should celebrate these differences in the sexes and see how much fun life can be.”
Let’s look at some of the differences this article noted when the father was involved in child care.
- Mothers were 1.5 times more likely to receive first-trimester prenatal care with reductions in prematurity and infant mortality.
- Mothers who smoked had a reduction of 36% compared with mothers whose partners were not involved.
- Fathers, like mothers, with mental health problems during pregnancy had risk for their children having emotional problems at 36 months and at 9 years of age. Thus doctors need to be alert to both parents’ mental status during the pregnancy and beyond.
- Fathers with “skin-to-skin” care during the first 2 hours after birth, had newborn infants who cried less, became drowsy sooner, and had less rooting, sucking, and wakefulness.
- Fathers demonstrate more active play with babies than mothers. “These high-intensity interactions with fathers encourage children’s exploration and independence, whereas the less-intensive interactions with mothers provide safety and balance.”
- Forty per-cent of American couples are not married to the mother when the baby is born, and by the time the baby is five years old only 63% of these dads will be involved in child life. However, if Dad the earlier the dad is involved in child care the greater are the odds that he will still be involved by the time his child starts Kindergarten.
- Father involvement in the early childhood years is associated with positive child developmental and psychological outcomes over time.
- Intervention programs with 8- to 12-year-old black boys that enhanced the parenting skills of nonresidential fathers were associated with reduced aggressive behavior of the boys.
Father involvement is associated with:
- A decrease in the likelihood of adolescent risk behaviors.
- Less adolescent depressive symptoms.
- Enhanced cognitive development.
- Reduced behavioral problems in male adolescents.
- Decreased psychological problems in female adolescents.
- Decreased delinquency and economic disadvantage in families of low socioeconomic status.
- Decreased early sexual experiences, and decreased teen pregnancy.
- Less likely to begin smoking regularly.
- Improved social responsiveness, independence, and gender role development.
The authors of this wonderful article concluded, “Fathers can now be seen to have a role expanded far beyond that of stereotypic disciplinarian, breadwinner, and masculine role model to that of care provider, companion, teacher, role model for parenting, and supportive spouse. The unique and complementary role of fathers is beginning to be understood. More research is needed on fathers’ role in promoting resiliency.”
There is so much more in the 15 pages that merit study by pediatricians and parents than I can ever cover here. If you are a parent or a public official interested in the health, welfare, and well-being of our young people and our country, I encourage you to have a look at this article. You can find it here.